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Community members honor the life and memory of Professor Patricia Zimmermann

File Photo/The Ithacan
Patricia Zimmermann, Charles A. Dana Professor in the Department of Screen Studies, Media Arts, Sciences and Studies at Ithaca College and director of the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival died the morning of Aug. 18.

Patricia Zimmermann, Charles A. Dana Professor in the Department of Screen Studies, Media Arts, Sciences and Studies at Ithaca College and director of the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival died the morning of Aug. 18 after a short illness. 

The college notified the campus community of Zimmermann’s death Aug. 19 in an email from President La Jerne Cornish and Provost Melanie Stein that expressed great sadness and loss. 

“We ask that you continue to take care of yourselves and one another, and to keep Patty and her loved ones close to your heart as we grieve this tremendous loss,” Cornish and Stein wrote.

To celebrate Zimmermann’s life and support one-another, the college is holding a gathering at 4 p.m. Aug. 28 in Muller Chapel. 

Zimmermann had worked at the college for 42 years and accomplished much in her personal and professional life. 

Zimmermann has authored over 200 scholarly articles as well as several books like “Reel Families: A Social History of Amateur Film,” “States of Emergency: Documentaries, Wars, Democracies,” “Thinking Through Digital Media: Transnational Environments and Locative Places” and “Open Spaces: Openings, Closings, and Thresholds of Independent Public Media.” Zimmermann has also co-authored many books and has curated media programming, exhibitions, festivals and film seminars. Each year for FLEFF, Zimmermann curates a series of multimedia, shown in Ithaca, that focuses on global issues.

Zimmermann received the Dana Professorship Award in 2021 for her teaching excellence and is a Fulbright specialist. She served as the Film and Documentary Envoy for the U.S. State Department. She was the editor-at-large for “The Edge,” the Park Center for Independent Media’s online magazine, and worked simultaneously on the editorial boards of “Film Quarterly, The Journal of Film and Video,”  “Annika,” and “The Moving Image: The Journal of the Association of Moving Image Archivists.” Zimmermann was also on the board for Opera Ithaca and Cinemapolis, Ithaca’s nonprofit art cinema. 

Zimmermann’s wish was that instead of flowers, donations would be made to Cinemapolis and Opera Ithaca, according to the college’s letter.

A more extensive list of Zimmermann’s accomplishments and involvements can be found on her faculty page.


Celebration of Life Gathering

Nolan Saunders/The Ithacan

About 100 members of the campus community gathered Aug. 28 in Emerson Suites listening to the college’s brass section, The Iron Brass, perform one of Zimmermann’s favorite songs, “Freud” by Johann Sebastian Bach. Projected on the wall was a slideshow of quotes from graduates and colleagues noting Zimmermann’s artistic excellence and pictures of her with colleagues, friends and students. As the music faded, Yasin Ahmed, director of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, began the memorial with a few words.

“By the number of people in this gathering, we can only imagine the number of lives Dr. Patricia has touched,” Ahmed said.

President La Jerne Terry Cornish spoke first at the ceremony. She recollected the many email exchanges she and Zimmermann had, noting how respectful and informative Zimmermann always was. 

“No matter what, even when we disagreed, she always respected the position,” Cornish said. “She was the consummate professional. I’ve been known to say that students are the ‘why,’ but Dr. Zimmermann makes sure that I will remember that the faculty are the ‘how.’”

Provost Melaine Stein spoke next about her experience becoming a faculty member at the college and meeting Zimmermann for the first time. She said it was immediately clear how Zimmermann cared about students and faculty all equally and passionately. 

“This community will painfully feel her absence, but we are the better for having her amongst us for so many years,” Stein said. 

Amy Falkner, dean of the Park School of Communications, talked about how Zimmermann was an inspirational, guiding force that encouraged Falkner to try new ideas. Faulkner also spoke of how Zimmermann’s assisting, impactful and caring attitude carried through to the students she taught. 

“This combination of asking students to stretch, and motivating them to do so, is what made her so impactful,” Falkner said. “Ideas bring hope, and ideas bring optimism, and that’s what I think about when I think about Patty.”

Tom Bohn, former dean of the Park School of Communications, shared how difficult it was for him to write his speech.

“When trying to compose my thoughts for today, I found myself paradoxically at a loss for words and overwhelmed with words, where to start, and what to say,” Bohn said. 

Bohn was dean when Zimmermann was hired 42 years ago and was highly involved in her hiring process. Bohn focused on Zimmermann’s personal achievements over the past years and the effect they had on the artistic world around Ithaca, and the thousands of letters she was known to write to faculty and friends congratulating them on whatever the event may be. 

“Indeed, Patty accomplished more in her academic lifetime than most of us can even dream about, much less aspire to,” Bohn said. “Her passing has rendered a huge hole in the hearts of so many. I find it impossible to comprehend her absence in my life.”

Andrew Utterson, professor in the Department of Screen Studies, spoke about Zimmermann’s impact on the college through the events she organized and the classes she taught. Utterson said she had a unique ability to connect people.

“One of her greatest gifts… was to connect people — as dynamically as she connected disciplines — to bring us together through workshops and roundtables, screenings and celebrations, teaching and toasts, and to think of our college of five schools as one network of vital nodes of infinite interconnection,” Utterson said. 

Michael Richardson, professor and director of the Screen Cultures Program in the Department of World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, also recounted his first time meeting Zimmermann. He said she immediately accepted and respected him.

“I thought, ‘I’m not ready for this, this is someone smart, passionate, and accomplished,’ while I was just a guy,” Richardson said. “It ended up being Patty who reached out to me. … Before I knew it, we had become colleagues and then later friends.” 

His speech focused on Zimmermann’s pursuit of creating an innovative intellectual environment at the college. Richardson noted how in these pursuits she always put others above herself. This passion for selflessness materialized in other organizations including Conservation in Screen Cultures and the screen cultures major.

“We lost someone important,” Richardson said. “A brilliant teacher and scholar, a mentor, a role model, a colleague and a friend. I’ll always be grateful to her for welcoming me, validating my own efforts [and] for fostering a space for all of us.” 

Claire Gleitman, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, closed the memorial with a few words about Zimmermann’s impact on the community. Her speech touched on the letters Zimmermann wrote, the impact she had on students, how much she cared about her colleagues and the events she organized.

“I believe that is how Patty brought events into being: a celebration of those she valued, of the community she wished to engender and the life of the mind,” Gleitman said. “I hope we can follow her example in large and small ways. … Let’s honor her with our own acts of kindness, our own commitment to noticing and celebrating one another and a shared agreement to always keep intellectual analysis and intellectual ideas on fire on this campus in her cherished memory.”

Ahmed ended the gathering with a minute of silence and a performance of “Danny Boy” by The Iron Brass. 

Students can make appointments for virtual or in-person sessions with Counseling and Psychological Services counselors by calling 607-274-3136 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Students can reach counselors outside of these hours by calling 607-274-3136 and selecting #5. For immediate assistance call the Office of Public Safety at 607-274-3333.

Students can access grief resources by visiting the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life’s website or by emailing [email protected]. Members of the campus community can also submit an ICare referral if they are concerned about the well-being of a student or would like help navigating available resources.

Faculty and staff can call 1-800-327-2255 to access counseling services from the Employee Assistance Program. There will be more information coming soon from the college about an EAP representative that will be available on campus to help faculty and staff.

Individuals who are in crisis or are concerned about another individual can call the National Suicide and Crisis Hotline at 988 to receive 24/7 free and confidential support and resources.

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    Barbara AudetAug 21, 2023 at 2:31 pm

    Professor Zimmermann was always a source of excellent advice and knowledge during my time as an assistant professor many years ago. Her legacy cannot be calculated, either in terms of her contributions to Ithaca College or to the film community. I am still in shock.